Everyone wants to be a strong leader. And while the potential is undeniably there for most people, some simply do not know what skills they should focus on to be a top-end leader. They can develop into suitable leaders but never truly masters of the craft.
In the new book Mastering Leadership, Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams explore the different kinds of leadership styles while providing tips on transforming into a truly great leader. Adams, a 35 year veteran consultant to Fortune 500 companies, and Anderson, an equally experienced consultant and award-winning professor at Notre Dame, run The Leadership Circle and the Full Circle Group which help leaders perform at their best.
In their extensive practice they have determined six leadership practices that every aspiring leader should take on to be at the top of their game.
1. Discern your purpose.
Embarking on a journey with no destination confuses your followers, wasting time and effort. If struggling with identifying your purpose, Anderson and Adams suggest first identifying the essential things you need in your life and working toward them. The world around you can offer clues to what drives you. "Purpose wells up from within. It is not something we invent. It finds us, if we pay attention," they write.
2. Distill your vision.
A clearly articulated vision is critical for followers to understand the road ahead. Anderson and Adams define vision as personal, specific, strategic, lofty and collective. "When we as leaders, articulate and embody our vision, we stimulate reflection in others," they explain. "If we then engage in dialog about our individual aspirations, we find common ground. We enable the true purpose and vision of the organization to rise to the surface."
3. Know your doubts and fears.
Followers do not expect leaders to be perfect. But they crave strength and courage in times of uncertainty. Anderson and Adams advise that identifying your own concerns allows you to address them personally rather than sharing insecurity with your followers. Rather than recoiling, they recommend embracing those fears and doubts head on so you can comfortably venture ahead. "You cannot pursue both safety and purpose simultaneously," they declare.
4. Engage in authentic, courageous dialog.
"There is no safe way to be great. And there is no great way to be safe. Transformation requires courage," state Anderson and Adams. Successful leaders are willing to have the tough conversations with followers. They encourage dissenting perspectives while staying true to their purpose. Choosing "comfort over challenge," according to Anderson and Adams, will lead to mediocrity or worse, failure.
5. Develop intuition.
Anderson and Adams believe rationality is only part of the success equation. "Mastery in most disciplines, including leadership, requires strong rational capability balanced by strong access to intuitive knowing," they argue before explaining that intuition can develop at any stage. They note that numerous geniuses of the past, such as Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Pascal and Ralph Waldo Emerson, have relied on intuition as a powerful tool for leadership success.
6. Think systematically.
No organization will scale to greatness without strong systems in place. Anderson and Adams equate the leader's primary role with being an architect of structure. "When structural change is ignored, visions fail," write Anderson and Adams. "Culture eats strategy for lunch every day. Structural forces are more powerful than individual commitment. Only when leaders courageously meet the challenge of structural change head-on can they make their vision a reality."